Love for Catholic Church fueled at St. Augustine

By Peter Finney Jr., Clarion Herald Commentary

The name screams self-esteem and self-awareness.

Christopher Confident, who just turned 17, has both qualities, and the St. Augustine High School junior used each to make the decision several months ago to go all-in with the Catholic Church.

Confident.

“I have to live up to it, you know,” Confident said.

Confident is a 5-foot-11, 200-pound defensive end on the Purple Knights football team, and his 2 percent body fat is something you’d expect of a marble countertop or a gymnast who celebrates a perfect-10 vault by eating a corn flake.

When he’s not chasing down a ball carrier, Confident hurls the discus for the St. Aug track team, engages in logical disputations with the speech and debate team, and is a member of the Future Business Leaders of America and the campus ministry team, where he really got to know Father Tony Ricard, head of campus ministry and pastor of St. Gabriel the Archangel Parish in New Orleans.

“I do so much at school, they kind of take up my whole weekend and basically my whole week,” Confident said, laughing. “St. Aug kind of owns me, if you think about it.”

Confident has been raised in a Baptist family, but his parents have been busy and go to church only occasionally. As Confident developed his relationship with Father Ricard at St. Augustine and worked with him over the summer as a counselor at two camps for special needs children, he felt pulled to attend Mass every Sunday at St. Gabriel.

Confident doesn’t have regular transportation to the Gentilly Woods church, so Father Ricard asked Joseph Johnson, a St. Gabriel usher for 37 years, and his wife Carolyn, to pick him up each Sunday morning. The Johnsons’ three sons attended St. Augustine, and one of them played in the band with the future Father Ricard.

“I’m anxious to see how far Chris is going to go,” Johnson said. “He’s definitely fallen right in. At one time he was sitting by himself in church, but now he sits with my wife and all the other senior citizens. Now they think he’s our grandson.”

When Confident began going to church regularly at St. Gabriel last year and expressed a desire to become Catholic, his family did not object.

“When I talk to them about it, they seem proud, and they seem supportive in whatever I do,” Confident said. “My mom is happy that it’s something good that I’m doing.”

Confident’s schedule is so packed with school and extracurriculars that he got in a bind on one recent Sunday. He had gotten back home late on a Saturday night after throwing the discus at a track meet, and he overslept the next morning. By the time Confident woke up, it was too late to call the Johnsons for a ride.

“So, his mom called Uber,” Father Ricard said. “He took an Uber to church.”

Confident said burning the candle at both ends has taught him a lesson.

“After that, I kind of set a lot of alarms,” he said.

In the last three years, Father Ricard has welcomed 26 St. Augustine students into the Catholic Church at the Easter Vigil. Each one has a story, but Confident stands out.

“Chris is a wonderful young man, and because of his being at St. Augustine, he has fallen in love with the Catholic Church,” Father Ricard said. “I also think being a counselor at camp, where he was watching these other guys who were great examples, made him think, ‘They all go to church, and I want to be a part of that, too.’ Our boys were evangelizing him without even knowing it.”

Confident was baptized and confirmed at the Easter Vigil on March 31, and he received the Eucharist for the first time. His sponsor was Andrew Lopez, a sportswriter for The

Times-Picayune who is also Father Ricard’s nephew.

“I asked him to pick a good Catholic person to be his ‘parran,’” Father Ricard said. “It’s so cool that this little, muscle-head boy found a sportswriter to be his godfather. That’s a book in itself.”

Confident said his quest for religion may have begun when as a child he began excelling at martial arts. His instructor talked not so much about the mysterious moves but about “believing in a greater power.”

Confident didn’t really understand anything about Catholicism when he attended in his first Mass, but “I took it upon myself to get closer to God, because I felt it was important.”

The theology of the Eucharist – the body and blood of Christ – was a revelation. “I didn’t know Catholics actually believed that it was the actual flesh and blood of Jesus Christ,” he said. “I thought that was really interesting and deep, because then I understood how important it was.”

He also learned that Catholics don’t “worship” saints but rather “celebrate” their memory and example. He had no problem with confession because he always felt compelled to confess his sins to God.

As for his future, he’s shooting for the stars. He’d love to get a football scholarship to play at a major college and then one day sign an NFL contract, but if that lottery ticket doesn’t come through, he’s already got his Plan B to pursue a career in business and nursing.

He is confident, which according to the word’s Latin roots, means “with faith.”

“Seeing how good of a person Father Tony is and how he is really living the word – that was inspiring,” Confident said. “I felt like this was the right religion for me.”

Peter Finney Jr. can be reached at pfinney@clarionherald.org.

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